Monday, February 19, 2007

Chosun Ilbo tells us "What Monnara's Mistakes Show Us"

This is an editorial by Shin Mun-yeong, chief editor of Veritas Books, published in the Chosun Ilbo on February 19th. I just translated it and I must say it is fascinating, definitely worth a read. It starts out telling a story about how the Wiesenthal Center and Rabbi Cooper caused a popular Japanese magazine to be shut down and a writer to commit seppuku over a quibbling disagreement about the scale of the Holocaust. the writer then tells an anecdote about an extremely rich Jewish family he tutored for when he was studying in America, and their obvious unhappiness despite being rich. To read the story, it seems obvious that the woman in it's reaction probably had more to do with his clueless assumption that all things Jewish come from Israel than anything else. He then goes on to remind his readers of all the pain the Jews have gone through and how they are victims, inevitably tying it back to the comfort women. It strikes me that even chief editors can't stretch their mind enough to avoid simply projecting their own feelings of victimization on the Jews. This is a very common thread that we can see both in Rhie's book (page 20, where he compares the diaspora to the Japanese colonial period) and the Prometheus article (in which the Jews' history is again compared to the Japanese colonial period). It is almost unbelievable that not a single person writing about this in Korea has been able to form a single idea in which the Jews don't have to be likened to the Koreans in order to explain their reaction. It seems to me that what these writers are actually doing is co-opting the Jews' 'specialness' by claiming that they are the same as the Koreans. That is certainly what Rhie does when he says that the Jews and the Koreans are the most 'severe' (지독하다: anyone want to help me find a better translation for this unique word?). I'm truly struck by the lack of imagination going on here, but also at the strident way that these people, who seem to have scant years of international experience, seem to think themselves worthy to answer these questions that they barely understand. Truly fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

What Monnara's Mistakes Show Us
Shin Mun-yeong, Chief Editor, Veritas Books
It seems that the part of the 'Americans' volume of the best-selling series Monnara Iunnara, which introduces us to many countries in a fun and easy way, in which it says that the Jews wielding money and the power of the press led to the 9-11 terror attacks will eventually be changed. The writer, Professor Rhie Won-bok, and the publisher have expressed regret, saying they were "apologizing for hurting the feelings of Jews".
The Wiesenthal Center, which is now making this an issue, also once brought about the discontinuation of an education current events monthly magazine published by the Literature Chronicles Company called "Marco Polo" in Japan. In 1995 one Japanese neurologist said in this magazine that the Nazis' mass murder of the Jews was true but that the infamous gas chambers of Auschwitz could have been an exaggerated fabrication.
Marco Polo, with its 250,000 readers, suddenly became the object of protest by Jewish groups, and the Israeli government officially brought this problem to its embassy in Japan. The chief editor of Marco Polo suggested that he would load up on reporters for the rebuttal who would act as a mouthpiece for Jews claim, but this was refused. The Jewish groups exercised their real power, moving the advertisers. Cartier, Volkswagen, Mitsubishi, Philip Morris and other companies canceled the advertising they had planned to place in Marco Polo. What's more, the Japanese government released a public statement that this writer's work was inappropriate. This eventually ended in his suicide by disembowelment. Rabbi Cooper and President of the Literature Chronicles Company Tanaka had a meeting and announced that the entire staff of Marco Polo had been disbanded.
It was 1995 and I was studying in St. Louis, U.S. The family where I was tutoring as a part time job was Jewish American, and their house was in one if the richest neighborhoods. It was Saturday afternoon and I saw a sign announcing a garage sale where Americans sell the things they don't want anymore. I bought a table that would be perfect as a speaker stand at a great price. I noticed a figure carved into it that I may have seen in the bible or a movie and so I asked the owner "Did this come from Israel?" Her face instantly went cold. "How did you know that? So what if it did?" she inquired. I just asked because I was curious, but it was different for the woman. If we can make a distinction between that bank president's family's social standing and wealth, their garage was full of things, but there was a shadow lurking on their faces.
Andy Grove, well-known even in Korea as one of the three founders on Intel, is a Jew who was born in Hungary but went to America as a poor foreign student and made his way up in the world. In the book about his dramatic success story "The Giant Andy Grove", he says that he doesn't even want to go to Budapest, where he spent his childhood, nor does he want to remember it. It's not just Andy Grove: many Jewish scholars, bankers, businessmen and movie-makers are uneasy even now. So they teach their children not to loosen their self-consciousness. They teach them not to forgive the over two thousand year history of hardship etched bone deep in their history.
In Korean society Jews are known for their great brains and as a people who kept their history for a long time, or for their vague responsibility for the powder-keg-like state of affairs in the Middle East. But if we can pay attention with a broader view, we can understand empathize with their painful scars. Even if we don't bring up the comfort women who are now having a hearing in America's Congress, we can understand the reason that the Jews brought up this problem. The rapid decision to fix the book's contents was an appropriate response. In the future Korea, surrounded by large and powerful nations, must rise up to find the horizon and thus understand other people and nations a little deeper, and thus show a Korea to be a nearer, more attractive nation.


Anonymous said...

It seems the article has already been translated at

Joe Mondello said...

Thanks for that.